A Texas county sheriff’s office has announced it would investigate the transportation of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last week, a controversial operation Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, took credit for.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said it had launched a probe into the operation, which it said transported migrants who had been housed at a shelter in San Antonio to Florida and subsequently to the Massachusetts island.
“The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into the migrants that were lured from the Migrant Resource Center, located in Bexar County, TX, and flown to Florida, where they were ultimately left to fend for themselves in Martha’s Vineyard, MA,” the office said in a statement.
The sheriff’s office said it was in communication with lawyers representing the affected migrants, referring to them as “victims.” The office said it was also prepared to collaborate with federal authorities, who some Democrats and advocates have urged to launch a criminal investigation into Florida’s actions.
The transportation of roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants by plane to Martha’s Vineyard sent local officials on the island scrambling to find shelter, food and other services to accommodate the abrupt and unannounced arrival.
The incident also reignited a national debate over U.S. border policy, with Massachusetts officials, the Biden administration and Democrats accusing Florida of using desperate asylum-seekers as props in a political stunt.
DeSantis, meanwhile, said he would continue sending migrants released from federal border custody to Democratic-led jurisdictions that have adopted so-called “sanctuary” policies, which limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
In response to news of the investigation, DeSantis’ communication director Taryn Fenske said, “Immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless, and ‘left to fend for themselves.’ Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected.”
“Unless the MA national guard has abandoned these individuals, they have been provided accommodations, sustenance, clothing and more options to succeed following their unfair enticement into the United States, unlike the 53 immigrants who died in a truck found abandoned in Bexar County this June,” Fenske said in a statement to CBS News.
The operation to transport migrants to Martha’s Vineyard is part of a broader, months-long effort by some Republican governors to rebuke President Biden’s handling of the record number of border arrests reported over the past year by sending migrants to Democratic-controlled states and cities.
Under operations authorized by Republican governors Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey, Texas and Arizona have sent roughly 13,000 migrants by bus to Washington, D.C.; New York; and Chicago, angering the cities’ Democratic mayors, who have expressed concerns about their ability to accommodate the new arrivals.
While advocates of asylum-seemed have denounced the busing operations by Texas and Arizona, which the states have said are voluntary, their criticism of the Martha’s Vineyard drop-off has been more pronounced, given the accounts of migrants sent there.
Lawyers representing more than two dozen migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard said their clients were misled by the people who transported them. According to the attorneys, the migrants said they were originally told they were going to Boston and a place with jobs and refugee services.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, the Boston-based group representing migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, over the weekend asked federal prosecutors and the Massachusetts attorney general to launch criminal investigations into their claims.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, made a similar request, urging the Justice Department to investigate whether migrants were targeted by state officials because of their national origin, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The Justice Department has so far declined to comment on the incident.
Massachusetts officials on Friday transported the Venezuelan asylum-seekers flown to Martha’s Vineyard to Joint Base Cape Cod, a military installation on the U.S. mainland that the state’s Republican Governor, Charlie Baker, converted into a temporary shelter for the migrants.